Dane, apropos of nothing. Photo Quinn Matthew

A SHOW ABOUT NOTHING

The Dane Reynolds interview by Vaughan Blakey

Dane Reynolds is the world’s best power surfer. You could chuck a “still” in that sentence if you feel the need but it’s a moot point. The 35-year-old father of three completely atomises lips. His bottom turns leave great cascading ravines in their wake and he destroys open wave face like a rocket-fuelled Mr Plow crashing full speed into a snowcone stand. It’s primal and brutal and beautiful and like all great power surfing [see Occy] absolutely timeless. But it’s not just Reynolds’ surfing that keeps us enthralled. To many, the Great Californian Hope who turned his back on the WSL, the big corporate sponsorship dollars, the surf media and five decades of unrelenting industry growth, stands for something that surfing lost along the way. It’s rebelliousness? It’s essence? It’s purity? Maybe some and none of all these things. 

For Dane, surfing, like life, is all part of one big story. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s awkward, sometimes it’s just about getting the kids to bed so he can watch TV. The great thing for us is that these are stories he likes to share through writing and filmmaking on the absorbing and incredibly creative prism of Chapter 11 TV. If you’ve spent any time there you’ll know that in addition to being a great surfer, Dane is also a masterful storyteller, a man with unique rhythm and inimitable style. In the wake of his most recent offering Short Circuit, we figured it was time for a catch up to talk about whatever… which is always a fun place to start a chat with DR.

SW You surfing a lot at the moment?

DR Well, I get in the water almost every day, but whether you call it surfing or not is up to debate, because the waves have been so shitty.

I actually had a laugh watching your last post on Chapter 11 where you’re describing your surfing as geriatric. It’s the most relatable thing I’ve ever heard.

Yeah, dude. I’m getting fossilised.

Do you actually feel that in your body, or is it more having-a-bad-surf thing?

I don’t know. I’ve been trying but it’s tough when the waves are so shitty. It’s usually good in California through March and even April, but it’s just been a really bad season for waves. Usually when it’s bad I’m looking for somewhere to go like Australia, Puerto Rico, South Africa, anywhere… but I can’t do that right now. So I’m surfing, but it’s literally because I am desperate to surf but I do feel like my surfing has gone rapidly downhill this year. All of March last year, the beaches were shut, and then we had a fun little run in May. But then it was flat for the longest time I’ve ever seen it flat in California, through July to December. There were no good waves. It was ridiculous, and no travelling. It was a fucked year for everyone. You sound like an idiot complaining about surfing, but I’m really psyched to get back to surfing good waves and hopefully surfing them okay.

Have you found that your consumption of surfing has increased during that time? Are you absorbing a lot of surf clips and movies?

No, I’m less and less interested in what’s going online as far as videos go.

What was the last thing that caught your attention?

I like the Jay Davies movie. Rage was sick too. That dude from Western Australia, his video was sick.

There was a lot of good shit out of West Oz. The Jacob Willcox one? 

Yeah, that was sick. Anybody that’s putting out more longform edits in this day and age, like 10-minute videos of surfing… I like that a lot more than clowny, vloggy shit. It scares me that people like that sort of stuff. The thing is I’m never bored. I’ve always got a lot going on so if I have 20 minutes to spare I might think, “Oh, I’m gonna watch video that I’ve been seeing get posted all the time on Instagram because it looks like it might have really good surfing, and the music sounds cool, and it might be something I’ll enjoy.” 

Those clips from West Oz and the Rage clips, the common thread with those guys is that they are absolutely charging and basically surfing as hard and as free and as loose as they possibly can, which is straight from the DR handbook. Is that the kind of surfing that still speaks to you most?

Yeah, I dunno man, I’m just a hardcore shortboarder. I get psyched on seeing people go hard and with good style to original music. I like it if they’re not too self-absorbed and feeling a need to share every aspect of their lives, because I think that people’s character pours out in the way that they surf a wave. That’s where you can see who they are. I don’t get that stoked on alpha, self-absorbed TikTok bullshit. It’s shallow. 

You mentioned you don’t get bored. Is that because you’ve got a busy mind or because you’ve got three kids under 10? Are you still finding time to read?

[Laughs] Nah. I haven’t read a book in years. I’d like to. I still suggest books to people that I have read, but seriously, you know how it is with kids. Most of my time gets taken up just trying to get them into bed, and then you have such little time after that. [Laughing] I just pretty much watch Seinfeld and go to bed after that.

That’s some dad life right there!

Yeah.

What about writing? It’s so clear you enjoy writing and I think a lot of people appreciate and connect with your words on Chapter 11. Is that something that you make time to do?

I mean… I don’t sit down and journal or anything like that but I do enjoy writing. Not to say I’m funny or anything, but I’ll listen to comedians speak and how they interpret everyday life and find irony and I like telling stories through that sort of scope. I find a lot of things in my life are pretty ironic and there’s a lot of humour in my everyday life. I’m a big fan of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, and I can relate to life sometimes feeling like a sitcom. When you tell the stories of everyday life you can see a lot of comedy in it all I think. 

Both those shows you mentioned are built upon acute observational humor, how what we perceive as normal can actually be being pretty fucken weird and funny. I think you’ve got a good handle on that.

Exactly. And my surfing… my life is… I mean… being a 35-year-old dude still trying to chase clips and surf for a living. It’s absurd!

Another thing that those two shows have in common is tapping into just how fucking awkward life can be. Do you experience a lot of that in your life? And if you do is it something you enjoy? 

Enjoy awkwardness?

Well like you said, when you’re observing the absurdity of life in your writing you can sense there are sometimes awkward situations you find yourself in.

Yeah. I don’t know. There are definitely a lot of awkward situations. I think that’s got a lot to do with people assuming stuff about me. About somebody they have seen in surf videos, and there are lots of assumptions that come with that. Even if they know me fairly well, there’s still assumptions about the life of a pro surfer… if that makes any sense. That makes me have different interactions with people than maybe somebody who is a teacher or something like that. You know?

I guess one thing that feeds into those misinterpretations is the way your words are used by surf media outlets to create news. Almost anything you post on Chapter 11, whether it’s an observation or just a cool piece of writing, it gets picked up and reposted with all this speculation about what you’re trying to say and what it all means.  

Yeah, that’s pretty fucken weird. A lot of time, the angle that they present it is not the right sentiment of the story, but I don’t really pay attention to the surfing news sites anymore. I’ll go to Stab and check out the Bruce series or something like that, but I don’t really click on or care about the tabloidy sorts of stories. 

But it’s so fucking Seinfeld it’s crazy!

I just think it’s really strange how social media has changed real media in general. Like, the real media is now reporting on social media, so it’s all secondhand. The media are no longer the leaders of information anymore. They’re collecting little pieces of everybody’s news and putting their own spin on it to try and make it unique. It’s strange.

A little while ago you wrote a piece on the state of America and it got blown up in the surf media and it occurred to me that other than Kelly Slater, you’re one of the only surfers who not only likes to express opinions about how the state of the world and surfing is affecting you, but who also gets those opinions dissected and talked about in these vast public forums.

I like to let things happen naturally and yeah, I do like to observe the goings on around me and put those thoughts down. I don’t know, man. I don’t know what Australians’ view of America is right now, but it’s really crazy. I’m not a crazy liberal in any way. I have a lot of friends that are Republican, and especially Matt, who I surf with almost every day, he is like a low-key crazy conspiracy guy. He doesn’t push it on you and get all heated and weird, but you talk to him about it, and you realise, “Whoa! Matt’s out there on this stuff!” Anyway, this is the state of America. It’s insane, and I appreciate that Matt and I can be on different sides of issues but talk about it and laugh about it instead of getting all heated and fired up like everybody else. So I thought it would be cool to let people vent on a message board and the video that went with it is just me and Matt surfing shitty little waves, and that’s when we talk about this type of stuff. I just thought it’d be a cool way to connect. I like finding connections in everyday life, and then use that when deciding what I put out to the world.

Outrage culture is so over-emphasised as important. You’re allowed to have different opinions to other people and not have to get into fight and or cancel people out because they have that opinion.

Politics is so big, and I think it kind of connects back to what I was saying about people having an assumption of who I am because of my career. They hold so many assumptions that people in power are evil. And if you don’t have any personal connection to these people, you assume that they’re misusing their power, taking advantage of the working class and so on… I don’t know. If the world is as scary and evil as my friends believe it is, then I need to go off the grid and get out of here. I like to believe that politicians in general have our best interests in mind. Maybe that’s naïve, but I like to talk to people with opposing points of view and not get emotionally tied up.

Being offended really should just be the start of a conversation, not the end of it. 

What’s it like in Australia right now, by the way? Is there this crazy division from conservative, right-wing people and liberals?

My take on it is that there’s definitely a flow-on from what’s been happening in America over the last few years in terms of right-leaning conservative governments being in power selling big business as the solution to all our economic and social problems. These governments have proven to have very little interest in dealing with poverty or the environment or the arts. Even if we didn’t care to admit it, Australia has always looked up to America in a cultural sense but I think most Australians don’t feel the same wonder for the place anymore. At the same time that divide between opinions does seem to be heating up. We’re as guilty as anyone of reacting poorly and being offended and demanding action rather than engaging in constructive discussions, if that makes sense.

Yeah.

Anyway, bit of a tangent… you mentioned you’re now 35, I’d like to know how do you reflect upon your surfing journey at this point?

Man, I’m really glad that I had a career during the era that I did because if I was 18 right now I’d be really confused about how to navigate a career in surfing. It’s crazy, because when I was younger, it was shameful to be self-promotional, and now the only way to make it is for these kids to be shamelessly self-promotional. So, I don’t know. It’s trippy. It seems like in the future, it’s either you’re like Noa and John John or you’re a jester on Instagram and TikTok.

Do you still think that that going through junior circuits and getting onto the pro tour is kind still the fundamental pathway that everyone still sees when they’re young?

I don’t know what people see. I don’t know what kids see. I’m curious. I ask kids about it all the time, because I like to know where kids watch their videos now. I always ask kids who their favourite surfers and skaters are. I know kids love Italo. They’re all like, “Whoa. Did you see that crazy tow?” And I’m like, “Yeah. I saw that.” So I’m guessing that kids are looking up to what Italo and Gabriel and John John are doing, and so I guess that’s probably still the most clear path that someone can see in making a career from surfing. At least it’s a legitimate one, because I know you can earn a lot of money off YouTube and stuff if you do it right, but that’s got to be fickle. 

Recently Stab did a reader survey which you won. John John was second, Torren Martyn and Mason Ho were in the top 10 and Italo didn’t feature. While this is only a sample of a pretty niche audience within the greater surf world it does hint towards the kind of surfing that lovers of surfing are appreciating. What did you make of that poll?

Yeah. That was surprising. I don’t really get that at all. I don’t really know, I don’t know where that comes from, because our viewership on Chapter 11 is so nominal compared to people doing vlogs and stuff. It must be a slice of surfers who are core bitter surfers and who are super cynical and over where surfing is at [laughs]. I don’t think it’s a very large slice of the surfing population that took part in that poll.

That may be but I do think people respect the way that you surf and the way that you have approached your career. I think people love that about Mason too. You both do things your own way.

Well, I totally get Mason being in the top five, because he’s done a really good job of blurring the lines between blogging and core surfing. His videos are entertaining. He puts one out like seemingly every week. He’s surfing really sick but also doing novelty stuff, like just slamming rocks and whatever. I totally get why Mason’s in the top 10. Italo not being in there…. that really surprises me, because I feel like he does a good job of blurring the line between being an entertainer and doing crazy novelty stuff like lipping a two-foot ledge off rocks and getting weird tattoos and whatever, but then, he’s like the gnarliest dude ever on top of that. So that’s really surprising. That doesn’t make any sense to me. I don’t know. I don’t think it was kids voting. I’d love to see the demographic of who voted, just the lineup, because I feel like it’d be a lot of like Matt Johnsons.

Ha ha! Old cynical relics.

Mega surf fans who hate everything. 

Why do you appeal to those kinds of guys do you think? Or is that just one of those awkward assumptions we were talking about earlier?

I don’t know. Maybe… what’s the right term? Maybe I represent an era they liked more. Nostalgia. Maybe they got nostalgia.

I think you’re making yourself out to be a lot older than you are.

Oh, for sure, I’m youthful.

Talking about what kids are consuming – and the way they’re consuming it – I’m just curious, what was your favorite surf movie as a kid? 

Loose Change, for sure. I loved everything about it. Me and my friend had our guys that we liked. We’d argue about who was better. It wasn’t a slight take-up from the last Taylor Steele video either. It smashed it. You know? They’re actually surfing real waves and going absolutely crazy. Bruce and Andy got in there and they had so much attitude and the sickest tracks. That music was sick. I would literally study it.

When I’m making films all my early influences come into them at some point. Do you find the same? Is there some Loose Change in the films you’ve made?

Definitely. When I was 15 and doing cassette-to-cassette editing from my Indo trips, I definitely had in mind a Taylor Steele part, for sure. Then, when I started making real films, like First Chapter there’s influence from Kelly Slater in Black and White, and I always liked Plan B – Questionable, the skate movie which presented the new team, the new Plan B team as questionable instead of just having the attitude where it’s like, “Check it out… We have the gnarliest team! We fucking rule!” It was more like, “Huh? Who are these guys.” I liked that. So I think that that sentiment kind of came through with Chapter 11, also because I’m self-conscious about my surfing. I never thought I was on the same level as other surfers my age when I was growing up. 

From First Chapter onwards, there’s a style of storytelling that you’ve accessed that is completely your own… I don’t think anyone else is doing it or can do it and it’s reached a new level with the Andrew Doheny film Short Circuit, which I think is a real masterpiece, man. It’s such a great movie.

Thank you.

You’ve got such a good sense of energy with your storytelling. Where do you think that comes from? Is it from subject matter outside of surfing, or is it just from being observational? When you sit down to make a film or a clip, do you have a vision of what it will be?

Oh, not at all. I don’t. No. It’s more about letting it guide you. Letting real life guide the direction. For instance, with Chapter 11, my one idea was ripping off stickers… which is a pretty stupid idea. It’s not very clever or anything. But that was the start. Then, I heard that New York Dolls song, Trash, it just popped into my head. I was like, “That has to be it.” Then, I was going to put out a section of video from Hawaii with no stickers on my board. Then, I wasn’t super happy with all my Hawaii stuff, so that prolonged everything. And then during that time I had this vendetta for Pierre [Agnes], who was the president of Quiksilver, because I felt that he had wrongly put pressure on my shoulders to “save the business.” You know? So there were a lot of things going on that were subliminally feeding into this project.

How did Pierre expect you to save Quiksilver?

We had a meeting where he was like, “You’re no longer my kid’s favourite surfer. Everyone loves John John now.” Basically, it’s like the fate of the company rested on my shoulders. He said, “If you don’t pull it together, we’re all fucked,” and he started leveraging the WSL to get me in events. I’d go do them just to do them, but I was increasingly doing poorly in them. He was basically smashing my ego and, I felt, unfairly putting the fate of Quiksilver on my shoulders. So I wanted to tell that story, and… I don’t know how I feel about it now, but the storyline came from a mix of all of those things, it happened just from paying attention to my life, what was really happening and wanting to tell my story. Again, because of the assumption that a lot of people have; that if you’re successful in your career, or you have money, or you’re famous, that you don’t have problems. Being a professional surfer doesn’t protect you from being a human. So that was kind of where that started, and that’s what compelled me to want to tell it in a way that made sense to me, and, in hindsight I probably threw way too much shit at Quiksilver. But then with Short Circuit, legitimately, all I wanted to do was put out a video,  a “welcome to the team” movie to let people know that we’re launching Andrew [Doheny] on Former. As it came together though it just seemed too important to not go into his life a bit more. I tried to edit just a surf film out of it and remove the story, because, I don’t know, I like telling my own story, but there’s a different component to telling someone else’s story. 

That’s true, and this is a very raw and open take on a heavy period in Andrew’s life. What did he think when you began showing him?

He tells me he likes it, and he tells me he’s cool with it. But I just have this weird feeling that maybe I’m stepping over the line, and maybe I’m putting more pressure on him for sobriety, and maybe he doesn’t really want to do this, and he doesn’t want to tell me no. But I brought it up enough times with him that I confidently felt like he was really stoked on it, and we went ahead with it. But it all came about when I started recording our phone calls, because I wanted to capture the Andrew that I know. Then, that conversation happened, and it was really hard to ignore and not let that conversation guide the story. When you set a plan I think sometimes you can spend too much time focusing on executing a concept but some stories need to be flexible with changing circumstances and events. If you’re not able to keep up the pace with the way a story evolves then I feel like that’s when you make something bad.

There’s a spirituality to that, having the awareness of what’s going on around you in the moment and being emotionally intelligent enough to see what it is and articulate it. Do you consider yourself a spiritual person?

No. Not really, and it’s weird because I’ve definitely… it’s not like that tortured artist thing or anything like that, but you know how the funniest people can be the most miserable? You know? Getting entangled in this story and having to tell it just so, it isn’t some sort of spiritual experience. I really labour over the details to create something important and there is a sense of something going on but it’s not some liberating thing creating a film like Chapter 11 or Short Circuit. When it’s done there’s not some big release or anything like that. If I think about musicians recording a song or an album. It’s insane, labouring over every lyric and detail and melody, I can understand how you probably get so caught up in it that you can’t let it go without it being perfect. Short Circuit’s not perfect, it’s just about getting the right sentiment and the right story. I do dwell on that a lot. 

SW